The Pop Group – For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder? (Y / Rough Trade album, 1980)

The Pop Group‘s second album has finally been given the reissue treatment. The group consisted of future Mute artist Mark Stewart (vocals), Gareth Sager (guitar and sax), Dan Catsis (bass) John Waddington (guitar) and the drummer they shared with The Slits, Bruce Smith, and For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder? was originally released by the group’s Y label via Rough Trade in 1980. The incendiary album has been reissued by the Freaks R Us label, who were also responsible for putting out The Pop Group’s 2015 album Citizen Zombie. For the reissue the label has also added the single ‘We Are All Prostitutes’ to the track listing. 

I reviewed the album for Clash. My review can be found here.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Venetian Snares – Traditional Synthesizer Music (TimeSig / Planet Mu album, 2016)

I reviewed this brilliantly wonky album by Aaron Funk for Clash. The album was created using modular synths and has that reverential dimension common to early synth records, mixed with Funk’s usual obtuseness.

Read my review here.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

12 Rounds – Jitter Juice (Polydor album, 1996)

12 Rounds were a mid-Nineties group consisting of future Trent Reznor accomplice Atticus Ross, his brother Leopold, Kirk Hellie and vocalist / front woman Claudia Sarne. Their debut album, 1996’s Jitter Juice was an intense, noisy affair, in thrall to the heavier end of grunge but also tipping its hat toward the pop crossover of Garbage and the lumpen end of the trip-hop oeuvre. In Sarne, the group had a singer capable of singing in a earthy, almost cabaret fashion while also veering into a vampiric, Lydia Lunch howl when required.Jitter Juice saw the band collaborate with a bunch of musicians – Billy McGee (who has worked with Coil, Simon Fisher Turner, Marc Almond, Test Dept., Nick Cave and countless others), Ian Mussington from Soul Asylum, cellist Stanley Adler and Mute stalwart Barry Adamson, who’d also worked with McGee on The Negro Inside Me.

Adamson laid down a chugging bassline for the track ‘Pleasant Smell’, which Polydor released as a single from the album. He also played shimmering, ghostly vibes on the melancholy blues of ‘Strange Daze’. Neither contribution rises above the rest of the arrangement with any particular prominence, suggesting Adamson was comfortable here just being part of the band.

Atticus Ross had already worked with Adamson on his Soul Murder album in 1992 and would go on to collaborate with him many more times over the years, while Sarne appeared on Adamson’s ‘Can’t Get Loose’ from As Above So Below. Other players on Jitter Juice like drummer Andy Crisp were also in Adamson’s orbit. Ross and Adamson would work together on the soundtrack for David Lynch’s The Lost Highway, by which time 12 Rounds were already being feted by Trent Reznor’s Nothing imprint after the Nine Inch Nails man overheard Ross’s group working in the studio. In Ross, Reznor found a producer and writing partner that has seen them become David Fincher’s go-to soundtrack composers.

Jitter Juice might be something of an overlooked footnote in the confused musical landscape of the Nineties, but as an exercise in eclecticism and collaboration, it remains intriguing to this day. It feels like a producer’s album, like Atticus Ross showing off his credentials as a sculptor of sound, working through various styles as an advert for what he was capable of. At the other extreme, the lurid green jewel case this was delivered in was just pure gimmickry.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Brood Ma – DAZE (Tri-Angle album, 2016)

I reviewed this wonky electronic album from James B Stringer, aka Brood Ma, for Clash. My review is here.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Espen J. Jörgensen / Rupert Lally – Paradise Once-inspired artworks

Artist Enrico Maniago has produced some artworks to accompany Paradise Once, the latest chapter in the ongoing distance collaboration with one-time Simon Fisher Turner accomplice Espen J. Jörgensen and Switzerland-based musical polymath and forgotten film buff Rupert Lally. Paradise Once was released on Espen’s No Studio imprint last summer and I reviewed the album for Electronic Sound.

Check out the art in this YouTube video.

Meantime, Lally has released a superb suite of modular synth pieces (Day One; review forthcoming) and found the time to set up a movie blog, which you can reach here.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Alan Vega / Alex Chilton / Ben Vaughn – Cubist Blues (Thirsty Ear album, 1996)


Cubist Blues was originally released in 1996 and despite the critical reception with which it was received at the time, supported by two live shows in New York and Rennes, it more or less sank into cult obscurity. A reissue by Light In The Attic / Munster in 2015, complete with expansive liner notes and interviews with the surviving members of this one-off collaboration and those who supported the record’s original release, should hopefully act as some redress.

The location is Dessau Recording Studio in New York, housed in an old five-storey factory loft unit just north of Manhattan’s financial district on White Street. The factory building is a window to an older New York, when manufacturing still took place within the cramped environs of the island; a time before rocketing real estate developments, expensive retail stores, art, finance and unabashed ambition were Manhattan’s principal concerns. The studio owners decided to retain the name of the original Dessau Manufacturing Company in the moniker for the studio, despite having no connection whatsoever to its previous occupants.

The date is December 6 1994. The day is fast becoming a distant memory and the night is stretching out before three musicians and their engineer, all of whom are hard at work capturing an unrehearsed, spontaneous jam fronted by Suicide’s Alan Vega. The jam is eventually titled ‘Fat City’.

The jam lasts a little over eight minutes, and finds Vega reeling off words that seem to materialise out of nowhere from the newspaper in front of him, no hesitation or groping in the near-dark for ideas. It is the sound of now, and Vega is as white hot as at any point in his career. The two musicians backing his lysergic utterances with a focussed blues improvisation are multi-instrumentalist Ben Vaughn on bass and Alex Chilton on guitar. A drum machine keeps rigid, chugging time and the duo of Vaughn and Chilton throw out licks and unswerving, constant lines, resonating off Vega’s words but also acting as a musical counterweight. The engineer, Drew Vogelman, manages to record the whole thing. It’s a one take affair. No practices, no pre-jam discussions, just a single, seemingly effortless take. It’s pure alchemy.

The architect of this session is Vaughn, whose idea it was to capture Vega in pure blues mode. Chilton is an unexpected bonus. He hears about the idea from Vaughn and asks to be involved. Vaughn’s up for it but can’t stretch to the air fare to get the esteemed Big Star guitarist across to NYC, so Chilton pays for it himself and jumps on a flight, guitar case in hand. Chilton and Vaughn are both fans of Alan Vega, while Vega recalls standing next to Chilton outside CBGBs smoking cigarettes, but not talking to one another. He thinks of Chilton as a wraith-like character. He calls him The Gray Ghost. Beyond possibly sharing a light and bumming cigarettes off each other on New York’s Skid Row, Vega can’t recall the pair ever speaking.

As ‘Fat City’ wraps, Vaughn suggests they keep on going. They work through the night and record a clutch of tracks, each one created live, in the moment, with no plan. Blues motifs seem to emerge out of the ether, while Vega channels words from any available source, ceaselessly conjuring up images and continually fired up by the setting. At one point he sits on a windowledge, observing the street below and voyeuristically playing back what he sees. As the sun rises, they pack up and head out of the studio, with almost an album’s worth of raw, urgent material in the bag.

They convene at Dessau again the following night and do the same. A synth has been borrowed and Alex and Ben take it in turns to jam out riffs. At times it’s hard not to think about Suicide as fat, looping sequences like the one on ‘The Werewolf’ underpin Vega’s echoing, tremolo purr. It seems appropriate that they would tease out a louche, bar-room version of ‘Dream Baby Dream’ at the conclusion of the session.

Across the two nights of recordings that would eventually be issued by Henry Rollins in 1996 on his 2.13.61 imprint via Thirsty Ear there’s an air of danger, of prowling, vampiric characters staking the eerie side streets of Downtown. It’s mysterious and evocative, drawing on some dark energy as if the players were performing within a pentagram and channeling whatever spirits presented themselves. It stands out as one of the most accomplished and carefully-wrought moments in Vega’s career, and yet flowed forth without any sort of planning except for the idea that they’d attempt to record some blues.

Note: the 2015 reissue includes a download code for the previously unreleased recording of the Rennes concert.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Throbbing Gristle – Very Friendly / The First Annual Report (recorded 1975)

The material on what has been variously described as Very Friendly and The First Annual Report represent the first recordings that Throbbing Gristle made under that name in 1975, in the midst of their transition from the COUM Transmissions moniker in a concerted effort toward making music rather than more eclectic arty initiatives.

These so-called “wreckers of civilisation” – Genesis P-Orridge, Cosey Fanni Tutti, Chris Carter and the late Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson – were no strangers to controversy when they decided to focus on what became Throbbing Gristle. COUM, while including an element of sonic exploration, was fundamentally a multi-disciplinary project, with imagery and ideologies that were often challenging, even for the liberal approach often taken toward the arts during the Seventies. Throbbing Gristle extracted the confrontational artsy angle but focussed that around sound, developing an aesthetic that was contemporary with the genesis of punk but which split itself off in a uniquely devastating counterweight to the Transatlantic feedback loop between The Ramones and The Sex Pistols.

This so-called first annual report begins with an almost twenty minute dirge of sound that recounts, in blunt, detached detail, the Moors Murders of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. Gen’s narrative on ‘Very Friendly’ spares no detail, taking on the dispassionate delivery that Patrick Bateman would deploy over a decade later in Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho; no detail is spared, whether that be the detailing of various proclivities on the part of the victims or the brutal violence that Brady / Hindley wrought upon those individuals. Gen’s voice takes on a manic, almost excitable and aroused quality as the sonic backdrop begins to pick up the pace to reflect the executions, with jarring synths and fuzzed-up guitars delivering the requisite nightmarish atmosphere for the story.

By the conclusion of TG’s opening gambit, the group are dealing in mere atmospheres, Gen’s voice stuttering the words ‘there’s been a m-m-m-m-murder’ with layers of echo that almost suggests a dreamy, sedated otherworldliness, as if what just played out couldn’t possibly be true. For a lot of people the serial killer antics of Brady and Hindley were something that couldn’t be rationalised, while for others they were a numbing tragedy that cast a pall over the North of England.

The rest of the album takes the same sonic foundations – the same grainy texture and noisy, clamorous atmospheres – and skews them, sometimes finding Gen vocalising some weird lament (’10 Pence’), adding TV news reportage while guitars and freeform noise structures push the TG sound closer to The Velvet Underground’s ‘Black Angel Death Song’ (‘Whorls Of Sound’), or into intriguing synth shapes (‘Dead Bait’) that belong on a Clive Barker soundtrack.

Though nowhere near as devastatingly confrontational as the opener, the most interesting piece here is ‘Final Muzak’, which propels itself forth on a dense, churning, sub-motorik metallic groove that’s part rhythm and part bass sequence. Noises whine and drone continually over that jarring rhythm, cycling round in queasy loops that suggest this early attempt toward the disciplinarian approach that would become one of Throbbing Gristle’s signature motifs could have run on far longer than the mere five and a half minutes presented here.

Very Friendly / The First Annual Report has never officially been released, but it has been bootlegged plenty of times over the years, with the name varying according to the release. I bought a CD copy of this released by the Genetic Terrorists label, with the above sleeve image and the name Very Friendly from an HMV on Oxford Street in 1997, which lead me to believe it was perhaps more official than it actually was. The most recent release was in 2001 on the Yeaah! label. Quite why the band never saw fit to release the record officially via their own Industrial imprint is something of a mystery, but just another strange decision in the history of this most uncompromising of British groups.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Howes – 3.5 Degrees (Melodic album, 2016)


3.5 Degrees is the debut album from Manchester-based electronic musician John Howes, and it title says a lot about the approach taken on this compelling album. That implied measurement is opaque, divorced from context, an in-between angle, just left-of-centre, and it neatly encapsulates the amorphous quality of the music that Howes has assembled here.

This is an album constructed of layers, often overlapping and – as on the opener, ‘Concangis’ – running out of sync with one another. The effect is to create hidden warrens and alleyways of never-repeating sonic events, like a mash-up intentionally gone wrong, and those events are intriguing for their slightly disjointed, randomised quality. Unlike Brood Ma’s DAZE, which shares some of 3.5 Degrees‘s skewness, Howes’s album sounds calculated and focussed, as if any randomness was actually a composed act rather than mere consequence.

Although 3.5 Degrees is an album that relies on the depth and originality of its sounds, rhythm is an important contributor to the overall presentation. ‘Zeroset’ and ‘DVR 16’ are delivered through locked, unswerving but subtle beats, slowly evolving but broadly constant, while wandering synths and springy effects give this a wayward, malfunctioning quality. You can imagine this being the kind of self-generating electronic music made by circuit-bent artificial intelligence-led computers as they bide their time on some lengthy inter-galactic trip through space. That ‘Zeroset’ also takes in a deep, swelling euphoric quality toward the middle of the track might link back to Howes’s earlier house experiments, but it’s cracked and chipped enough to sound perfectly imperfect.

It’s not all warped – by which I mean misshapen as well as sharing characteristics with the fabled mid-Nineties roster of a certain Sheffield-based label. ‘OYC’, with its pretty melodic cluster and droning synth texture could have easily found itself on a Kraftwerk album like Ralf & Florian, where classical-esque tonality was then a more important frame of reference than roboticism for the group. It represents another angle altogether in Howes’s music and one that suggests he’s immersed himself in a whole array of detailed electronic research to assemble this album.

Above all else, it’s the jagged angles and blooming textures of 3.5 Degrees make for such an intriguing album. Nothing sounds the same twice, and the inner universe of each track continually reveals itself with each listen. I’m not prone to hyperbole, but I’ve not felt this drawn to the elusive, infinite possibilities and fractured beauty of ‘listening electronica’ since I bought Aphex Twin’s ‘On’ single way back in the mid-Nineties. This is a truly impressive debut.

Howes at Bandcamp: here

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Diamanda Galás with John Paul Jones – The Sporting Life (Mute album, 1994)

I’ve maintained a healthy interest in Diamanda Galás since hearing her vocal contributions to Erasure’s Erasure album in 1995, but I’ve always found her music a little too impenetrable. I fully appreciate her dexterity and range as a vocalist, but I’ve never really ‘got’ her, though not through lack of trying.

The Sporting Life, Galás’s 1994 collaboration with Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones was my first real concerted effort to get to grips with her music, and as an entry point to an artist that Daniel Miller signed to Mute precisely because she was ‘challenging’, it’s not a bad place to start.

A lot of what makes The Sporting Life relatively accessible is the multi-instrumentalist Jones’s arrangements. This is a a form of blues, accented with the kind of aggressively brutal funk shapes that draw parallels with the likes of Rage Against The Machine, particularly on tracks like ‘Do You Take This Man?’ and ‘Devil’s Rodeo’, where his low-slung bass anchors the whole track in rigid, unswerving time. Rooting the music in the blues seems to encourage Galás to play down some of the histrionics for which she is known, finding her instead singing relatively ‘straight’, especially on stirring numbers like the soulful ‘Dark End Of The Street’ or ‘Tony’ which are just about the most plaintive and troubled, almost theatrically soulful, moments in Diamanda’s catalogue.

The organ-led ‘You’re Mine’, with its Louisiana gumbo of reference points is where wildness starts to creep in, descending into a cacophony of tongues that render the tail end of the track a swampy mess, with the music feeling like it constantly wants to wrap up but where Galás just wants to keep going. It’s a definitive example of why less is more.

And that again is what I have a problem with. I could listen to Galás doing gravelly blues songs like ‘Dark End Of The Street’ all day, but I run out of patience when the vocal histrionics – irrespective of how technically accomplished her range and technique might be – reach the point of complete and noisy surrender. Even the masterful Jones seems to give up somewhere on this album, and the music begins to play a very clear second fiddle to the dominance of Galás’s voice. The only time I can really get on board with it is during the closing track, ‘Hex’, and that’s mostly because of the Nitzer Ebb-esque riff that runs through most of the track.

I’m honestly not sure what it is about her voice that troubles me so much; perhaps it’s that it carries a level of base anguish and emotional openness that I’m not prepared to give in to, or perhaps it’s a specific aversion that I have to vocal improvisation. I get jazz improv, but I’ve never developed a taste for either scat singing or the wordless vocalisations of people like Phil Minton, and I’m not sure I ever will. Whatever the reason, my relatively modest Galás collection is now up for sale via Discogs.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Immersion – Analogue Creatures (Swim~ single, 2016)

‘Analogue Creatures’ is the first material by ImmersionMalka Spigel from Minimal Compact and Colin Newman from Wire – since a fabled performance at London’s Royal Festival Hall in 2000 which marked the reformation of Newman’s group. The next decade and a half would see Swim~, the electronica label that Spigel and Newman had established, put on the backburner while the duo variously worked on the resurgence of Wire, live shows by Minimal Compact and the Githead group they formed with Robin ‘Scanner’ Rimbaud and Minimal Compact’s Max Franken.

Named for the organic quality of the synths deployed rather than suggesting that this new 10” EP is a product of the analogue renaissance that gets Big Bang Theory-esque synth nerds all hot under the collar, ‘Analogue Creatures’ is at once deeply ambient, while simultaneously Krautrock in its dimensions. ‘Always The Sea’ and ‘Shapeshifters’ blend together choppy guitar lines with slowly ebbing and flowing synth backdrops, it often being unclear when the synths stop and the guitars start. Despite the absence of any discernible rhythm, there is nevertheless a pulse – of sorts – running throughout the record, evoking the chugging motorik grove that characterised much of Krautrock; Newman sees ‘Analogue Creatures’ as being in the territory of a ‘beatless Neu!’ and it’s easy to see why he’d come to that conclusion.

The EP pivots on the track ‘Organic Cities’. That track saw the duo collaborating with local Brighton synth geek Guy Schneerson, and the track demonstrates a more harmonically full suite of arpeggios, plucked guitar lines and evocative texture. It sits somewhere between the churning linear lines of a Githead melody and a previously-unheard outtake from Vangelis’s Bladerunner soundtrack.

‘Analogue Creatures’ is a slick return to the drifting, expansive electronica that occupied Spigel and Newman in the Nineties, but it’s also yet another evolution of this stop-start-stop collaboration. It doesn’t necessary signal a return to the prominence that the duo gave Immersion in the formative Swim~ days, but despite a long period of absence during which they focussed on the classic guitar-bass-drums formation, the pair are showing that they’re every bit as intrigued by synth music as they ever were.

A full interview I held with Malka Spigel and Colin Newman about the new Immersion record will appear in the next issue of Electronic Sound. Electronic Sound is available at the App Store or

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence